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Salome's Modernity

Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression

Petra Dierkes-Thrun

Publication Year: 2011

"Salome's Modernity is a first-class piece of scholarship---at once learned, sharply focused, and beautifully, indeed, entertainingly written. Above all, it is a significant contribution to modernist studies, for it takes a number of themes that appear in the various writings about Salome to show precisely how the various authors, performers and film-makers utilized and rethought these themes for their own times." ---Herbert S. Lindenberger, Stanford University "Salome's Modernity is intellectually powerful, truly informative, and engagingly written. No other book rivals it in scope when it comes to placing Wilde's play in a cultural and literary genealogy that links memorable works of poetry, fiction, drama, opera, and film." ---Joseph Bristow, UCLA Oscar Wilde's 1891 symbolist tragedy Salomé has had a rich afterlife in literature, opera, dance, film, and popular culture. Salome's Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression is the first comprehensive scholarly exploration of that extraordinary resonance that persists to the present. Petra Dierkes-Thrun positions Wilde as a founding figure of modernism and Salomé as a key text in modern culture's preoccupation with erotic and aesthetic transgression, arguing that Wilde's Salomé marks a major turning point from a dominant traditional cultural, moral, and religious outlook to a utopian aesthetic of erotic and artistic transgression. Wilde and Salomé are seen to represent a bridge linking the philosophical and artistic projects of writers such as Mallarmé, Pater, and Nietzsche to modernist and postmodernist literature and philosophy and our contemporary culture. Dierkes-Thrun addresses subsequent representations of Salome in a wide range of artistic productions of both high and popular culture through the works of Richard Strauss, Maud Allan, Alla Nazimova, Ken Russell, Suri Krishnamma, Robert Altman, Tom Robbins, and Nick Cave, among others. Jacket illustration: Maria Ewing in Richard Strauss's Salome, Pittsburgh Opera, 2001, © Suellen Fitzsimmons.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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Introduction

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pp. 1-14

Oscar Wilde’s 1891 symbolist tragedy Salomé has had a rich afterlife in literature, opera, dance, film, and popular culture. Even though the literature and art of the European fin de siècle produced many treatments of the famous biblical story of Salome and Saint John the Baptist, virtually every major version in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been some ...

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1. Dancing on the Threshold: Wilde’s Salomé between Symbolist, Decadent, and Modernist Aesthetics

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pp. 15-55

By the time Oscar Wilde got to the story of Salome, such writers as Heine, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Laforgue, and Huysmans (together with Moreau, Regnault, and other visual artists) had already fundamentally transformed the sparse biblical account of John the Baptist’s martyrdom in the gospels of Mark (6:14–29) and Matthew (14:1–12). From the tale of a nameless, in- ...

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2. “The Brutal Music and the Delicate Text”? Richard Strauss’s Operatic Modernism in Salome

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pp. 56-82

In October 1905, two months before the astounding premiere of his Salome, Richard Strauss received an enthusiastic letter from friend and peer composer Gustav Mahler, who had just reviewed the completed score. ...

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3. Perverts in Court: Maud Allan’s The Vision of Salomé and the Pemberton-Billing Trial

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pp. 83-124

This chapter considers the first influential modernist female interpreter of Wilde’s play, the Canadian American dancer Maud Allan, who shot to international fame with The Vision of Salomé in London in 1908. Scholars studying dance or lesbian legal and cultural history and scholars of Wilde’s cultural afterlife have been very interested in Allan because of her tragic in- ...

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4. Alla Nazimova’s Salomé: An Historical Phantasy by Oscar Wilde

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pp. 125-160

Four years after Maud Allan’s public disgrace in the Pemberton-Billing Trial, Russian-born actress and Hollywood movie star Alla Nazimova (1879–1945) decided to adapt Wilde’s drama in her striking art film Salomé: An Historical Phantasy by Oscar Wilde.1 Aided by Natacha Rambova’s extraordinary, Beardsleyesque set designs and costumes, Salomé invoked both the ...

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5. Portraits of the Artist as a Gay Man and Salom

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pp. 161-196

In this final chapter, I turn to recent adaptations of Wilde’s Salome figure in film and popular literature and culture since the 1980s. There was a decades-long lull since the 1950s, after Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard (1950, now also a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber), in which an aging film actress (Gloria Swanson) imagines and acts out her ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 197-202

Looking back at the adaptations and transformations discussed in the course of Salome’s Modernity, one cannot help but notice their great formal range and ideological variety. Wilde and Salomé graduated from censored,perverse tempters of the innocent Victorians in the 1890s, to darlings of the European theatrical and operatic avant-garde in the 1900s (with...

Notes

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pp. 203-218

Bibliography

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pp. 219-236

Index

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pp. 237-247


E-ISBN-13: 9780472027545
E-ISBN-10: 0472027549
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117673
Print-ISBN-10: 047211767X

Illustrations: 4 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900 -- Influence.
  • Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900. Salomé.
  • Salome (Biblical figure) -- In literature.
  • Deviant behavior in literature.
  • Modernism (Aesthetics).
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